To say that 2010 was a rough year for metal has to be one of the most colossal understatements any journalist could conceive. Listing all of the fallen heroes of this year would be a column unto itself, as would a list dedicated to the many near-miss accidents, sicknesses, and crimes endured both by entire bands and individual band members. As it is, today we will examine a list with some of the most tangible and immediate consequences in the metal world – the breakup and hiatus announcements and completions of the past year.

Nobody likes to see bands calling it a day, but it’s understandable when a band has been around for a long time and has made enough music to be satisfied with their career. This year has seen nothing like that, as only one truly legendary group of veterans is among the list of bands calling it quits. Call it the consequence of a floundering music industry, an unstable economy, the lure of side projects, or just the desire for a more normal life – no matter which way you slice it, the younger bands are much more susceptible to fast exits now than they were ten or even five years ago. It’s a damn shame too, because there are so many young acts that could be hugely influential waiting for their chance to shine, but are eventually forced to break up when circumstances dictate that the band cannot function. How many Slayers, Panteras, Testaments, and Motörheads of the new generation have we let slip past because of this? One can never be certain, but my estimation is that the number is too high to even fathom.

With that in mind, let us now look back at the bands that announced their final runs or took their last bows this year. And in honor of these great artists, let us raise our horns in tribute to them and the music they selflessly gave us.

Judas Priest – No self-respecting metal fan in the world can say that they are not a fan of at least one Judas Priest song. With the exception of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest has been around longer than any other metal band in history. Before there were Iron Maiden and Motörhead, and WAY before there were Metallica and Slayer, Judas Priest was melting faces and stunning crowds. After more than four decades as part of the music scene, who can blame them for wanting to retire? They are certainly going out on top, with a monumental world tour planned that will take this breakup announcement well into 2011 and possibly 2012. But knowing that I may only get to see Priest once in my life before they call it quits is a personal shame for me, as it likely will be for legions of other metalheads.  

Despised Icon – Even though they’ve said that they abhor the term, Despised Icon is one of the bands that can be credited (for better or worse) for helping jump-start the deathcore scene worldwide. Few bands were performing their technically proficient and undeniably heavy mix of math metal and hardcore in the early parts of the decade, and with 2005’s The Healing Process, bands like Whitechapel, Suicide Silence, and Winds of Plague suddenly went from underground heroes to big-name successes. The announcement of their disbanding surprised many when it came to light in April. However, Despised Icon is going out on a high note – 2009’s Day of Mourning cemented them as the best math metal band in the western hemisphere, with its guitar wizardry and genius-level time signatures. They also were able to play a full world tour as their farewell, giving all of their fans a chance to see them on stage one final time. It will take a band as good as Meshuggah to top Despised Icon, since only Meshuggah is better at math metal.

Haste the Day – Forever the unsung heroes of Christian metal, living in the shadows of As I Lay Dying, Underoath, and Demon Hunter, Haste the Day was one of the most complete bands in the entire Christian metal scene. The intensity they displayed on 2004’s standout album When Everything Falls still has me enthralled. Their official reason for calling it a day is that they feel they’ve released all that they can under the moniker of Haste the Day after a decade of making music. However, I feel the reason is much closer to home – within the past six years, the band’s original lineup has been entirely replaced by newcomers, with the exception of bassist Mike Murphy. 2010’s Attack of the Wolf King was a good album, but it really highlighted more than anything just how much this was not the same band anymore. Either way, they will be sorely missed, and their farewell tour with Mychildren Mybride, The Chariot, and A Plea for Purging will be bittersweet.

Finch – According to a statement released last week on the band’s website, Finch has decided to call it quits, failing to finish their third album after more than two years of work. The statement goes on to say that the members have all acquired new tastes, thus making it impossible for them to continue on together. Put in simpler terms, they’re breaking up because of creative differences. This only goes to show that creative differences are very real, much like drummer Derek Kerswill said following his split with Unearth back in October, and aren’t just some cop-out reason that bands invent to kick members out. It’s an even bigger shame when an entire band is brought down by them. At least Finch fans aren’t left entirely empty-handed, as the band released some b-sides and bonus material on their Bandcamp page, and are also selling their old merchandise at this location for low prices.

Isis – Legends of post-metal and incredibly influential to the doom, sludge, and stoner metal scenes, Isis took the sound pioneered by Neurosis and Godflesh, and turned it into an unstoppable beast of progression and experimentation. Through 13 years and five albums, Aaron Turner and Co. could do no wrong. However, the band did not want to “push past the point of a dignified death”, and thus announced their ending on May 18th. Isis’ legacy will never die, though, if for no other reason than the fact that Turner can’t stop signing Isis-inspired bands to his rapidly growing label, Hydra Head Records. It’s nice to see that there are young bands with an appreciation for their sound, which is most certainly an acquired taste among heavy music fans.

Destroy the Runner – The reasons for this Christian metalcore act’s breakup are confusing at best. The only clear-cut explanation has come from vocalist Chad Ackerman, who stated in several magazine and podcast interviews that guitarists Duane Reed and Nick Maldonado wanted to end the band in 2010 to focus on other material. As the last two founding members left in the band’s lineup, they then barred Ackerman and bassist Tanner Sparks from continuing on with the Destroy the Runner name, despite the desires of Ackerman and Sparks to continue writing and recording the band’s third album, which was left unfinished. I really liked the potential that these kids showed on their two full-length albums for Solid State Records, and I was sorry to see them lose their cohesion at such an early stage of their career. If they can reconcile their differences and finish that third album, I would love to hear what it had to offer.

The Autumn Offering – For eleven years, the only constant in The Autumn Offering was that guitarist Matt Johnson. This band was a revolving door of members in each other position, although co-guitarist Tommy Church had lasted for five years, and vocalist Matt McChesney was settling into his groove after three. However, Johnson’s departure from the band earlier this year was the biggest nail in the coffin for The Autumn Offering, despite the fact that their self-titled fifth album received positive reviews for its much heavier tone. The Autumn Offering is just the latest example of an age-old principle of touring music: unlike theater, where some performers can come and go as they please without impacting a production at all, music requires a much higher level of consistency and commitment among the members of a production. If no consistency can be found, then eventually a music act will fall, no matter how talented the performers are.

Swarm of the Lotus – When Burnt by the Sun went into an unofficial/forced hiatus in 2004, Swarm of the Lotus seemed primed to become their replacement as primary producers of sludge-infused mathcore, a genre that is very hard to even fathom and harder still to play. Their two full-lengths in 2004 and 2005 were powerful pieces that gave them a leg up on the competition, but an inexplicable breakup in 2006 ground their progress to a halt. Last year’s reunion gave them a second chance at greater recognition, but they still didn’t get anywhere. It’s too bad, because Swarm of the Lotus was another band with nearly limitless potential and very few struggles to overcome (outside their genre’s difficulty, of course).

ABACABB – For those unaware, you have until the end of this paragraph to remember what the significance of this band’s name is. Now then, how many video game enthusiasts got excited just by the name of this band? It’s a shame that such a nostalgic name was only in the spotlight for two years. These guys did well at the New England Metal & Hardcore Festival in 2009 and 2010, and their relentless touring was a throwback to the old DIY days of ’90s hardcore. However, I give them the most credit for bringing three new and unknown bands – Legend, Wretched, and Monsters – on their farewell tour. Kudos to ABACABB for trying to garner support for these youngsters through grassroots means (especially Wretched, one of the bands I’m most excited about right now). And the answer to the quiz at the top of this paragraph is that A-B-A-C-A-B-B was the “blood code” for the original Mortal Kombat on Sega Genesis. I really hope I’m not the only one that suddenly feels very old for knowing that.

Gwen Stacy – Yet another young band with a very bright future, Gwen Stacy’s A Dialogue was my favorite post-hardcore album of 2009. I tend to dislike songs that have repetitive catchy sections between refrains, but that album took that tendency and threw it on its head. I still occasionally find myself humming parts of “Profit Motive” or “Addictionary” while I’m doing other tasks. On top of that, the band had found themselves a solid frontman in Geoff Jenkins (ex-Once Nothing, not the former MLB player), who performed exceptionally well on A Dialogue. If there’s one thing I can’t stand more than a young band breaking up, it’s a young band breaking up when they are at the top of their game. Gwen Stacy was done before their time was up. It’s unfortunate that the band decided to end now, in my opinion. Hopefully the members will be able to keep their level of quality high in the new projects they’ve undertaken.

Acheron – Although they rarely get credited for their resilience, Acheron was playing black metal and attacking religion before most of the Norwegian bands had put on their first batch of corpsepaint. Led by Vincent Crowley, who at one point was appointed personally by founder Anton Szandor LaVey as a priest in the Church of Satan, Acheron was one of the first bands to promote black metal in the USA. Their lineup outside of Crowley was in a near-constant state of change, even including Richard Christy on drums in 1996, and death/black metal drumming institution Tony Laureano in 1998. Crowley has seen it all in 22 years of music, and he’s earned the right to relax and spend more time corrupting the youth of America. Best of luck to him in his future endeavors.

Confide – Confide had a very turbulent beginning to their career, with members coming and going, sometimes even across continents. But once they got signed to Tragic Hero Records in 2007, it seemed that they had things in order. Both Shout the Truth and Recover were excellent metalcore albums that were pure to the genre’s origins. However, the touring life is not for everyone, which is what three-fifths of Confide determined earlier this year. Thus, the Christian metalcore act is no more. However, they left a huge mark on the scene, as evidenced by the turnout at their farewell shows. Such a powerful young band sets a great example for those that follow, and I hope other young bands just starting out look to Confide’s career as a source of encouragement in these difficult times.

Thus, we bid farewell to the old and new faces that are or will soon be retired from active metal duty. On behalf of music fans everywhere, we at Metal Insider raise our horns to you for all that you achieved and for every life that you touched with your music. Thank you for giving us your time, your creativity, and your passion.  Looking to the future now, here is to 2011 and the hope that bands will have better fortune in the new year. May the Metal Gods have mercy on us, and allow me to not have to write this column again next December.